A strange album, this. I otherwise know Joni Mitchell only from her first half-dozen albums, which are rather sparse, fragile folk music. Hejira represents a transition to a much more jazzy style (apparently already under way on her previous album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, but I don’t know that one). Joni’s distinctive vocal style is the give-away, but that aside there is not much on Hejira that would make you think it’s by the same person as Blue.
The opening track, Coyote (above), is fairly representative, though a little more up-tempo than much of the album. The distinctive fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius gives this song, and a few others on the album, a glossy feel that juxtaposes oddly with Joni’s very wordy freestyle singing — almost scat in places — and contributes to the hazy, impressionistic tone of the whole.
Hejira is one of those albums that is much more than the sum of its parts. As a folk-singer, Joni would probably not like to hear it described as a concept album, but that’s really what it is — a sequence of meditations, some more melancholy than others, on the subject of Life On The Road. Almost all the songs are travelling songs, and they have in common a restless quality. That integrated quality of the album makes song selection hard. If I wanted someone to discover Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, I would not really be able to pick a single track as representative — I’d have to sit that person down and listen through the album, start to finish, or at least the whole of side 1. Much the same is true of Hejira. In the end, I picked Coyote in part because it’s the opening track, and therefore the only one that doesn’t rest on the mood created by a predecessor. But really, this is an album to lose yourself in, not to pick and choose from.